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  Texas : Feature : Columns : "They shoe horses, don't they?"

The World's Heaviest, Fastest
and Most Beloved Hailstone

or "I Can't Believe It's Not an Ice Cube"
by Luke Warm
Forget the popular comparison with golfballs - think grapefruit.

In June of 2003 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported a 7-inch diameter hailstone fell in Aurora, Nebraska. It's circumference was recorded at 18.75 inches, beating out the 17.5 inch World Record which had been held (tightly) by Coffeyville, Kansas since September 3, 1970. But since hailstones challenging the world's record need to be sent to the Boulder, Colorado laboratory for verification, there's no telling how much weight, diameter or circumference was lost in transit.

The Coffeyville stone, however, weighed in at 1.67 pounds while the Nebraska entry was an anemic 1.3 pounds. The truth is: no one cares about circumference. When was the last time you heard a fisherman brag about catching a 16-inch circumference bass?

Coffeyvillains must be detail-oriented folk. How else can you explain their locating someone who could estimated that the Coffeyville 'stone struck the earth (and thankfully no one's head) at 105 MPH. No one reported the speed of the Nebraska stone, so Coffeyville (for now) can also claim the World's Fastest Hailstone.

But who knows how long that particular record will last? The intense desire to hold any hailstone record plus the quantum advances in modern radar detection have led some communities in the Great Plains to ask the help of local law enforcement personnel (formerly known as police or state troopers) in measuring the speed of descending hailstones. (If you are driving through the Great Plains and see a police car with the window cracked and a radar gun pointed skyward, you'll now know what's going on - just don't look up.)

Those of you who know your Kansas geography will remember that Coffeyville is just a (hail)stone's throw from Missouri - whose nickname "The Show-Me State" has been irritating people for over 150 years. Kansans are used to having to show proof to their skeptical neighbors, so they took the added precaution of having a replica made of the hailstone. The replica is on display at Coffeyville's Dalton Defender's museum - not far from the dead outlaw effigies.

In the states that comprise the Great Plains, hailstone spotting is one of the fastest growing activities for "young and old alike." Immediately after a hailstorm, helmeted aficionados can be seen running outside - even before the "all clear" warning is announced - hoping to find a contender for the world record.

Lionel Trane of What's-our-name, Texas was thought to be a shoe-in back in 1999 with a hailstone thought to be a two-pounder. But while driving to Boulder he placed the stone in an ice chest to chill some room temperature malt liquor. Upon arrival it was little more than your common refrigerator-variety ice cube. He returned to a village of dashed hopes, disappointed neighbors and eventually had to leave the state.

The Mother of all Hailstones

But the largest hailstone ever imagined fell (with some help) in Texas sometime in the 1930s or 40s. It was featured in Robert Ripley's popular syndicated newspaper column and it's a most unusual, amusing and thoroughly believable occurrence - once you're given all the facts.

It seems that one gray and rainy day a traveling salesman (let's call him Earl) checked into the Raleigh hotel or another well-known Waco hostelry. As he checked in, he asked the bellhop to bring a block of ice and some ginger ale up to his room. (A common request for the time - when half-pints of beverage alcohol outsold all other sized bottles combined.) The ice was placed in the sink and after tipping the bellhop, Earl looked out at the battleship-gray sky that was fast turning black. As he watched, pea-sized hail started falling and then dime-sized hailstones. Soon it was quarter-sized and there were even a few stones of the (extremely rare) thirty-five cent-sized variety. The Wacoans who had sought shelter under the hotel's awning started gathering the ice marbles as they rolled within reach - marveling at the icy jewels.

Earl (now well into his second cocktail) decided to have some fun. If the locals appreciated hailstones - he was just the guy to give them one they'd remember. He rounded the rest of his block of ice under the hot water faucet and gently lobbed the nine-pound sphere into the street.

The people below were more than appreciative. They rushed out and picked it up as if it were a baby. They knew a world record when they saw it and within minutes a newspaper reporter was nervously stepping out of a taxi - running into the lobby before another nine-pound ice-meterorite could bury itself in his head.

Earl, anxious to see the disappointment on so many faces, went downstairs and fessed-up. But no one was buying the truth when the fiction was so much sweeter.

Caught up in the excitement, even the bellhop forgot that he had brought ice to this man who was now frantically trying to admit to a hoax.

The newspaper bought it - Ripley's bought it - and throughout WWII servicemen from McLennan County were telling the story of Waco's nine-pound hailstone from Rome to Okinawa. Only Earl knew the truth - but who wants to believe a salesman - especially when he's got liquor on his breath?

For anyone who wants to wade through ten years of yellowed newsprint - the story is there in the Waco public library - somewhere between 1939 and 1948.


LW
Note: I have just two words for Coffeyville, Kansas: Hailstone Festival. Drinks could be chilled by hailstone replicas, and pea-sized colored hailstones could be thrown to the crowds below from women secured to the wings of vintage biplanes. Just let me have the Iced-Coffey concession.

"They shoe horses, don't they?" May 20, 2005 column
John Troesser

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"They shoe horses, don't they?"


 
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